Families, teachers prepare for big changes coming to Anchorage School District next year

Education will look a little different in the fall for Anchorage School District families and staff: School start times are changing; high school freshmen will take a new career-focused course; and most sixth graders are transitioning from elementary to middle school.

Some parents, teachers and education advocates say they’re concerned about the potential impacts all the changes could have at once — on teachers’ workload, on families’ and students’ schedules, and on the child care sector in Anchorage.

Others say they’re excited about the potential health and learning benefits the changes could mean for students.

“I think it’s a mixed bag, and it depends on how it affects you personally,” said Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association, the union that represents most district educators.

The school district declined repeated requests for comment or an interview on the upcoming changes.

Here’s a rundown of all the changes coming to Anchorage schools next year — and what each could mean for families and the broader community.

Sixth grade move to middle school

Beginning this fall, nearly all sixth graders in the district’s non-charter schools will be attending middle instead of elementary school, alongside seventh and eighth graders.


School officials have said that the change, which was first proposed in 2022 as a cost-saving measure, is meant to offer benefits to students, including more electives, languages and science courses. The move is also intended to be a more efficient way to use district facilities.

Next year’s shift is the final phase in a two-year plan: Many Anchorage middle schools already serve sixth graders, including Begich, Clark and Mirror Lake.

In conversations and on social media, some Anchorage parents and teachers said they were supportive of the change, noting that sixth graders are emotionally and socially ready for the added responsibility at middle school.

“They’re ready for higher expectations. And they’re ready to make that transition,” said Kari Konrath-Bera, a first grade teacher at Fire Lake Elementary and a parent of multiple ASD students.

Some shared broader concerns about what the move could eventually mean for elementary schools, which will have even fewer students next year after nearly a decade of declining enrollment, at a time when the district is looking for places to consolidate schools.

Earlier this year, the district said it planned to announce a multiyear school closure plan to “right-size” the district and more efficiently use district funds.

“I think the least controversial change is the sixth grade move,” said Aist with the school union. “But everybody is concerned about how that’s going to affect the consolidation next year.”

District officials have said their consolidation plans are based on declining birth rates and an exodus of young people from Anchorage over the last decade that’s left many schools under-enrolled and well below capacity.

“That discussion is just starting, but it is definitely stressful for a lot of educators and families and community members who love their neighborhood schools,” Aist said.

Changing start and end times

Another change going into effect next school year is adjusted start and end times for most students:

• Elementary school students will begin at 8 a.m. and get out at 2:30 p.m.

• High school students will begin at 8:45 a.m. and get out at 3:15 p.m.

• Middle school will start at 9:30 a.m. and get out at 4 p.m.

All schools will start an hour later on Mondays, as they did during the current school year, to allow for an hour of teacher professional development time. They’ll still let out at the same time.

In public messaging, school officials have described the change — which was approved by the school board in 2023 — as a way to allow older students to get more sleep, citing studies that have shown high school students learn and feel better when school starts later.

But the change has drawn pushback from families of younger students in particular, who say the change will require them to find before- and after-school child care due to schedules that no longer align with their work schedules.

That could prove particularly challenging in a climate where child care programs in Anchorage are increasingly unaffordable and waitlists can stretch months or sometimes years.


The district has said some but not all schools will allow for earlier drop-off times for families.

“It’s definitely going to be a massive change,” said Philip Walters, a middle school band teacher at Gruening Middle School who’s also a parent of two younger children.

He said the schedule change will mean neither he nor his wife are available before or after school to drop off or pick up their children.

A shortage of child care options was his biggest concern: His children have been on a waitlist for a provider for five years, he said.

“There’s just not enough infrastructure for child care before or after school, and I think the changing start times are going to exacerbate that,” he said. “I know quite a few families that are trying to figure out what they’re going to do next.”

Freshman academies

The class schedules for incoming ninth graders will also look a little different: Each student will be enrolled in a course called the freshman academy.

The academy, which is replacing a required ancient civilizations social studies course, is the first phase in the school district’s ambitious plan to include career academies at each high school beginning the following year.

The freshman academy will include a visit to the University of Alaska Anchorage campus alongside career exploration curriculum and more general help with transitioning to high school, school officials said during a school board work session this week.


The following year, those then-sophomore students will each be required to select a career academy and pathway that they will take classes within for the remaining three years of high school, the district has said.

Earlier this month, the district announced its plans for the specific academies it plans to offer at each school, pending approval from the school board. Each high school proposed its own planned academy offerings after receiving feedback from families and educators.

The plan has raised questions from families, educators and school board members who have wondered whether the district has the funds and staffing to pull off such an ambitious plan, which will annually require an extra $3.5 million and 30 educators to run, district officials have said.

Staggered first day of school

In part to help families and educators adjust to all these changes, the district is also staggering the first day of school for the 2024-25 year.

• Students in first through seventh grades, along with ninth graders, will begin school on Thursday, Aug. 15.

• Eighth graders and high school sophomores, juniors and seniors will begin school on Friday, Aug. 16.

• Preschoolers and kindergartners will begin school on Thursday, Aug. 22.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the occupation of Philip Walters’ wife.

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at